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Glenn Close gives an Oscar-nominated performance as a cross-dressing butler in 19th-century Ireland.
There's very little more melancholy in the film world than a long-nurtured passion project that doesn't quite work, and such is the lot of Albert Nobbs. It's a great concept for a film. The story - a woman passes as a man working as a butler in 19th century Ireland - is unusual and original. The character at the film's heart ought to be a gift too. Highly repressed, yet obviously on some level incredibly intrepid, there are potentially all sorts of conflicting neuroses to play with.
And yet, somehow, it doesn't come together, despite obvious genuine effort from all involved. Perhaps the effort is part of the problem; it's all rather laboured, when what you want is to be able to take the character to heart as a character, rather than as a waxen cipher for the social problems faced by women in eras past.
To take another famous example of "passing" in film, Dil from The Crying Game elicited our sympathy seemingly effortlessly, whereas Albert makes for such an ineffectual hero/heroine, that even his/her eventual fate can't really summon the required audience emotion. Not all cross-dressing has to be explicitly sexy, or about the sex itself, but (bar an extraordinary bosom-baring from one character which doesn't so much steal the scene as smother it) this film seems so primly frightened of exploring anything in that line, that it's almost rather perverse.
File under interesting failure, although with three Oscar nominations (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Costume), there must surely be people out there somewhere convinced by this relentlessly tasteful affair.
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On E4: 04 March 2015